Tag Archives: Composer

Jew of the Week: Giacomo Meyerbeer

Biggest Superstar of the 19th Century

Jacob Liebmann Beer (1791-1864) was born near Berlin, then in the Kingdom of Prussia, to a wealthy, observant Jewish family. His father was the president of Berlin’s Jewish community and ran a large synagogue in his home. His mother received the prestigious Order of Louise from the Prussian queen, and because she was an observant Jew, got a small statue instead of the traditional cross. The Beer children received the best secular education, as well as private tutors in Jewish studies. All three sons became famous: Wilhelm Beer as an astronomer, Michael Beer as writer, and Jacob Beer as a composer. When his beloved grandfather Meyer passed away, Jacob added the name to his own, changing it to Meyerbeer. He also vowed never to abandon the faith of his fathers, while many of his friends “converted” to Christianity to be accepted in society and to take on jobs otherwise barred to them. Meyerbeer was taught music from a young age by some of the best instructors of the time. He performed his first public concert at just age nine. Meyerbeer’s early work involved writing religious music for his father’s synagogue, and his first big production was a ballet-opera called The Fisherman and the Milkman, followed by the musical God and Nature, and the opera Jephtha’s Vow. He wrote beautiful pieces for the piano, clarinet, and full orchestras, and vacillated between composing and playing music himself (which he preferred). Having faced many difficulties in his youth, Meyerbeer founded the Musical Union to support up-and-coming composers. In 1813, he was appointed Court Composer for the Grand Duke of Hesse. Several years later, he felt he had lots more to learn and moved to Italy. There he wrote some of his most renowned operas. By 1824, he had become world-famous, and his 1831 grand opera, Robert le diable, made him the equivalent of a modern-day superstar. The following year, he received the Legion of Honour, the highest award in France. In 1841, he was described as the “German Messiah” who would save the Paris Opera from its death, and shortly after also became director of music for the Prussian royal court. Not surprisingly, his success and wealth drew the ire of his colleagues, and Meyerbeer faced terrible criticism and anti-Semitism (especially from Richard Wagner, once his pupil). Meyerbeer remained graceful nonetheless, and never responded to the attacks on him. He continued to compose popular works until his last day, and has been credited with being “the most frequently performed opera composer” of the 19th century. He inspired the works of later greats like Dvořák, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. He was also a generous philanthropist, a devoted husband and father to five children, and never broke his vow to die an observant Jew. Meyerbeer remains one of the greatest musicians of all time.

Words of the Week

One who looks for a friend without faults, will have none.
– Hasidic proverb

Jew of the Week: Hans Zimmer

Your Favourite Film Music

Hans Zimmer

Hans Florian Zimmer (b. 1957) was born in Frankfurt, then part of West Germany. His father passed away when he was a child, and he was raised by his musician mother, who had fled Germany to England upon the outbreak of World War II. Zimmer began playing keyboards as a teen, and joined the Buggles in the late 70s (famous for their hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”, in which Zimmer makes an appearance). He continued to work with various European bands for the next decade. Meanwhile, he did some work on the side writing jingles for commercials. Soon, he teamed up with Stanley Myers to found a new recording studio in London called Lillie Yard. The duo started to produce a new style of music combining traditional orchestras with new electronic sounds. They wrote the score for a number of movies, climaxing with The Last Emperor in 1987, which won an Oscar for Best Original Score. The following year, Zimmer was hired to write the score for Rain Man. The movie went on to win four Oscars, with a nomination for Zimmer. A year later, another film for which he wrote a score won Best Picture. For his next film, Zimmer flew to Africa to record traditional African choirs, and this led him to be hired for The Lion King. (Which he says he agreed to do to impress his then-six year old daughter.) The immensely popular music that Zimmer wrote for The Lion King won him two Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar. The Broadway adaptation won a Tony Award, and set a record for being the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time. Zimmer went on to write hit music for many more films, including The Prince of Egypt, The Thin Red Line, The Rock, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. All in all, he has 1 win and 11 nominations for Oscars, 4 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes, 3 Saturn Awards, and many more. He has written scores for over 150 films, and made music for 17 television shows and 2 video games. Zimmer has been ranked among the “Top 100 Living Geniuses” and is considered one of the greatest film composers and musicians of all time. Zimmer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an asteroid is named after him. His latest work is the score for the new live adaptation of The Lion King, which opens in theatres this Friday.

The Kabbalah of Kippah

Words of the Week

With science, there are unknowns, but there are also these rituals for finding the answers… It’s the same thing with Judaism. I think that’s why we have so many Jewish scientists. It’s easy to go from ‘I am trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it,’ to ‘I’m trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it.’ It’s the same thing, but just different rituals.
– Neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge

Jews of the Week: Recha Freier & Ruchie Freier

Two Trailblazing Women

Ruchie Freier

Rachel “Ruchie” Freier (b. 1965) was born in Brooklyn to a Hasidic Jewish family. In high school, she took a course in stenography and went on to work as a legal secretary. She soon became a paralegal, and was her family’s breadwinner, supporting her husband’s full-time religious studies. At 30, she realized she was working under lawyers that were younger and less knowledgeable than she was, and made the decision to go to law school herself. Juggling school, work, and raising six kids, it took Freier ten years to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree. She passed the bar in 2006, becoming America’s first Hasidic female lawyer. Meanwhile, Freier was heavily involved in community work, and spent time as an advocate for New York’s oft-misunderstood Hasidic Jews. In 2005, she set up a charity called Chasdei Devorah to support poor Jewish families, and in 2008 co-founded B’Derech to help troubled teens. In 2016, she was elected Civil Court Judge after a tough race. That made her the world’s first female Hasidic judge. Freier also serves on New York’s Criminal Court. Amazingly, she is a licensed paramedic, too, and works with Ezras Nashim, an all-female volunteer ambulance service (a branch of the more famous, all-male Hatzalah). The New York Times has appropriately called her a “Hasidic superwoman”. Freier has won multiple awards, and was recently ranked by the Jerusalem Post among the 50 Most Influential Jews in the World.

Recha Freier

Ruchie Freier is not to be confused with Recha Freier (1892-1984), also born to a devoutly Orthodox family, in Germany. Recha Freier experienced tremendous anti-Semitism in her youth, and this inspired her to become a Zionist. Her husband was a rabbi in Berlin, while she taught in a high school and spent the rest of her time writing. In 1932, Freier was asked to help five young men who could not get jobs because they were Jewish. Freier had the idea to send the boys to the Holy Land instead to learn farming. She raised the necessary funds and organized their voyage and settlement. Thus was born what would become the Youth Aliyah. The organization would go on to save 7000 young Jews from Nazi Germany and settle them in Israel. Freier coordinated with (former Jew of the WeekHenrietta Szold to make sure the teens were taken care of in their new home. Freier herself escaped Germany in 1940 by crossing the border to Yugoslavia. There, she saved 150 Jewish orphans. All made it safely to Israel in 1941. Two years later, Freier established the Agricultural Training Center to educate impoverished children. She was also an avid musician and pianist, and in 1958 founded the Israel Composer’s Fund. In addition to composing a number of original musical pieces, Freier wrote works of poetry and Jewish folklore. In 1981, she was awarded the Israel Prize for her contributions, the State’s highest honour.

Words of the Week

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
– Bruce Lee